Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Food Network pigeonholes

I first discovered the Food Network in September 1998. The Wife and I had just moved from Chicago to Indianapolis. She was able to transfer her job from the Chicago office to the Indianapolis office, but I was without employment. After three weeks, I finally found a job managing a satellite store (on the IUPUI campus) of the now-defunct Indiana Bread Company. (IBC was very similar in design and scope to Atlanta Bread Company and Panera Bread)

For several weeks before the satellite store opened, I trained at the northside Indy location. The bakers were a pretty lively bunch, which I guess you would have to be if you woke up at 3:00 AM to make danishes and other goodies for breakfast. They talked a lot, usually about what they had seen on television or the movie theatre. One day they were talking about a guy named Emeril and what he had cooked that day. I had never heard of someone named Emeril on TV, so I asked who they meant. They said that he had a show on something called the Food Network, and he liked to say, "Bam!" and "Let's kick it up a notch" a lot.

I found the Food Network channel after sifting through the many cable channels. I was dumbstruck. I knew about different cooking shows on PBS, and The Wife and I liked to watch the show Great Chefs (which usually featured three courses - appetizer, entree, and dessert - cooked by three different chefs), but I never realized there was a channel dedicated solely to cooking shows.

Many of the shows that aired when I first started watching are now gone. Sara Moulton, executive chef at Gourmet magazine, had two airings of Cooking Live, at 7PM and 10PM. Pick of the Day, hosted by the robust Curtis Aikens, focused on vegeterian dishes. In Food Today, hosted by David Rosengarten and Donna Hanover (Rudy Giuliani's exwife), focused on the latest food ideas and trends. Ultimate Kitchens showcased the latest gadgets and utensils in... you guessed it, someone's large and usually renovated kitchen. The Best Of and Food Finds traveled to restaurants, diners, and bakeries well before Rachael Ray and those pesky Deen brothers started their travels.

Some of the people I watched in those days are still around. Emeril is still going strong with Emeril Live! Mario Batali has a few episodes of Molto Mario's still airing in the morning. Although she stopped doing Sara's Secrets a few years ago, some episodes by Moulton can be seen during the week.

Another chef still around on the Food Network is Bobby Flay, owner of Mesa Grill NYC and Mesa Grill Las Vegas (as well as four other restaurants). When I first started watching, he was ending his run on Grillin' and Chillin' but Hot Off the Grill! was still fairly strong. One of his current shows is Boy Meets Grill. I thought that he was their main grill guy, so I was surprised to read this passage in David Kamp's The United States of Arugula (pg. 349):
In its zeal to entertain and find formats that will elicit good ratings, [commercial food television] often obscures the culinary gifts of its stars. Flay, on the basis of Grillin' and Chillin', got pigeonholed as the Food Network's grilling guy, starring in the series Boy Meets Grill, Hot Off the Grill, and BBQ with Bobby Flay, even though he has proven himself capable of three-star cuisine in a variety of idioms in his restaurants Mesa Grill, Bolo, and Bar Americain. "I'm from Manhattan. It's like, how much grilling am I doing in Manhattan?" he says. "It's a funny relationship that I have with the Food Network, because my restaurants are not about that. I want to be thought of as a chef in my restaurants, which are where I am 90 percent of my time. you're not gonna get the food that I cook on TV in my restaurants. Sometimes I have a love-hate relationship with the TV part of my life - but, at the same time, it's also been a great, great thing."

1 comment:

  1. I was a producer at "In Food Today". David Rosengarten knew more about food than anyone I've ever known. And he wasn't a snob about it, either. I once fouind him in the break room waxing poetic about how tasty the streusel was on the Drake's Coffee Cake from the vending machine.